Strongman on the Border

19.  Trump’s hortatory demands were prepared for in a spatial imaginary that plotted the arrival of unauthorized migrants that the federal government needed to staunch by a fixed boundary wall.  His implicit portrayal of an appeal to precedent and to history was less clear, however, than the cartography of fear he sought to summon by depicting a flood of refugees–almost in terms of an infection–streaming over a fenced barrier that was in fact socially and legally defined.    Without even evaluating the substance of this trumped up appeal to tradition, it is important to place it in the context of the history of legal institutions which sought to sketch the historical place of such border walls and boundary fences The clearly oppositional character of walls were rooted in differences of belonging and blood, rather than legal precedent, but evoked deep a legal identity with consequences that demand to be mapped–even if they evoke an authority that seems to precede the existence of a written record of civil institutions or articulate argument.  

The wall derives as a proposition in no small part from Border Patrol maps.  Such maps articulate fears of cross-border travel, generalizing a level of fear by identifying the hermetic sealing of the border with the preservation of an ideal of American safety that has little to do with immigrants seeking to better their lives or poor economic living conditions–or the unimaginable distances which many of the apprehended unauthorized migrants mislabeled as “illegal” have indeed travelled to enter the United States in search for a new life.   The wall was defined as a conceit for the first time in the 1990s, when border fencing was built by the US government in what had long been a complex border zone, in attempt to keep economic migrants from seeking higher wages north of the border, and effectively “naturalize” the increasingly steep inequalities of globalization.  The persuasive threat obscures a failure to process refugees seeking new homes where they can better their conditions, and the changes in the ground beneath undocumented migrants’ feet–now robbed of a clear sense of place, stripped of rights, privacy, and possibilities of work, in an environment where they lack safety, and where no safety is accorded.

The promise to build the wall is presented as a means to secure safety, and as a needed barrier of impermeability against an onslaught of stagnant wages, unemployment, and by invoking the greater fears of drugs, arms, gang violence and crime.   Trump promised the creation of a “real wall” in rallies–although what sense any border was ever “real” is unclear–as if to establish a need to treat the border as a threshold of legality, and magnify the danger of border-crossing within the national imaginary, in ways that create a false consensus that places border crossing at the root of threats to jobs, economic security, drug addiction and public health.  The wall materializes even as it magnifies fears of unauthorized immigrants, and serving to condense fears against immigrants, and a magnification the dangers undocumented immigrants pose, even as it provides something of a trial balloon of the expanded powers of the state to undermine our legal system.

In promoting the wall as an imperative, Trump both adopted and cultivate a notion of the border promoted by Border Security to maintain the border that has warped the notion of sovereignty by a notion of national frontiers that predate civil institutions or the law, but are a restoration of order–although the notion of an authoritarian border wall itself seeks to dismantle a legal process of immigration, and strip US residents of rights.  WHile this may be due to Trump’s limited experience with the law, the cognitive violence of the wall lies not only in the obstruction that it creates on the ground, but the dangerous model it creates for remapping sovereignty, and for creating a sharply uneven access to justice, from immigration courts to the rights we accord others. If the wall deflects attention from deep-running national problems from homelessness, climate change, credit-card debt, health-care, and widespread economic inequalities, it offers an impoverished sense of the collective that is primarily designed to demonize and erode the legality of immigrant.

Donald Trump promoted the return to the project of wall building as a primal image of the nation as a candidate, and it has long provided the basis for his sense of executive actions.  The violence of the building of the wall that he has promised his audiences at every opportunity during the election provided a basis for dividing the nation that was itself without clear legality or precedent in international law.  But having been launched in the “state of emergency” after September 11, 2001, The creation of these boundaries however create a particularly warped image of state that he promised he could create for the nation, in which the executive could bend the law:  for when Trump declared with incredulous self-confidence that “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he proposed a new idea of the nation, as much as describing the borders of the United States, that obscured his own lack of political experience or familiarity with government or civil institutions.  With a used car salesman’s confidence and cockiness, he boasted of the ease of binding the nation with a wall able to obscure what the civil institutions that long defined the the nation were, promoting paint a new image of sovereignty with confidence of the need to replace the existing political status quo.  

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Filed under 2016 US Presidential Election, Donald Trump, immigration, mapping the US-Mexican border, undocumented migrants

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